Over the past year or so, I have been watching the Foster Kitten Cam, a webcam showing live video of families of kittens in a foster home. This webcam is provided by Foster Dad John, who volunteers at Purrfect Pals cat rescue organization in Washington State.
When a pregnant cat is rescued by Purrfect Pals, they wait until the kittens are born, and if all goes well, after a few hours or days, the mother and kittens are taken to John's home and housed in a special room he keeps for the foster families. At first, they live in a cage, and the mother is able to get out to eat, drink, and use the litter box. The camera provides quite a close-up view of the family as the tiny kittens nurse and gradually open their eyes and learn how to walk.
When they are big enough, they are let out of the cage into part of the room enclosed by a fence, and given toys to play with and cat furniture to climb on. As they develop, they are given cat food and a litter box. Eventually, the kittens learn how to climb over the fence and explore the rest of the room. By this age their personalities emerge. Every day, John visits a few times and spends a while with the kittens, observing them, playing with them, and getting them used to being with people.
Upon reaching two months of age, if they are healthy and weigh enough, the kittens (and mother) are taken to be neutered and spayed, and soon afterwards they are offered for adoption (to WA residents only).
Throughout the process, the camera is live all the time, and viewers from around the world can see everything that happens. The view is "uncensored", meaning that viewers can see the real lives of these cats, sometimes including bodily functions or sickness. Unlike human "reality shows", this cannot be faked and the cats don't know they are being watched (although when they stare right at the camera it sometimes feels like they do!).
At any given time there are usually about a thousand viewers or more
watching. Sometimes links to the webcam "go viral" and suddenly there
can be over twenty thousand viewers. Some viewers become regulars,
making the webcam a part of their daily online lives. The site also features a chat room, so viewers can discuss the kittens (and other things) while viewing. I don't participate in this chat, as this is not the sort of social interaction I am seeking, but I sometimes read it, and appreciate many of the regular participants. The chat room has created friendships and provided emotional support to many viewers.
I have been enjoying the opportunity to watch several families of kittens, and my appreciation has many reasons.
First, what John is doing is a good thing. He keeps the kittens' best interest as his top priority, and helps the rescued mothers, some of whom had been stray cats, become socialized and ready for adoption.
Second, it is educational. While most viewers might start watching because kittens are "cute", the experience of watching John's interactions with the cats and the way he tracks their development is educational. He sometimes also answers viewers' questions live on the webcam during his visits to the room. Most people rarely have experience with kittens. Even those who adopt kittens soon have adult cats. So it is a privilege to be able to observe the kittens growing up and learn about their stages of development.
Some of the viewers have reported what the webcam means to them. While many have cats of their own, or other pets, some are unable to own pets because their landlords don't allow pets, or because they are allergic, or for other reasons. For them, the webcam provides a substitute pet. For some, the webcam provides comfort after losing a pet (or even a human loved-one). Many people say that watching cats is relaxing, which I believe has been scientifically proven. And a few viewers have been inspired to foster cats themselves, so the webcam is promoting this volunteering aspect.
One important aspect of fostering is that you have to become attached in order to nurture the cats, and then you have to let go when they go for adoption. This is something many people say they would find difficult, and John has made it a rule that he never keeps any of the fosters. He seems to find the strength to give up the kittens because he knows they will be going to good homes, and because he is dedicated to their best interest. I believe this is something we can all learn from. Many of the families who have adopted the cats and kittens have either
made Facebook accounts for them, or at least send John occasional
updates about them, which he posts on the Critter Room Facebook page for
the viewers to see.
I have watched Miranda's kittens, the Scientist kittens, the Spice kittens, Ripley's kittens, and now the Cosmo kittens. Each mother cat and kitten has a unique personality, and I feel enriched by having a connection, albeit temporary, to these cats. Like most viewers, I choose my favourites and imagine being able to adopt them. I experience mixed feelings when they get adopted - sad to see them go, and happy they will live in a good home with loving humans - but I know that within a few days or weeks another family will appear on the webcam.
The Foster Kitten Cam is important to me because (obviously) I love cats. My two cats are aged 11 and 13, so it is a long time since I rescued them as kittens. I also enjoy the authenticity of the experience and the ability to get to know these cats and kittens over several weeks. In the same way that I prefer novels over short stories and like to listen to whole albums rather than individual songs, I also enjoy forming a longer and deeper acquaintance with the cats I watch online, rather than seeing short edited videos of some particular moments of a cat's life.
I want to take this opportunity to thank John for everything he does. Beyond the good work he does with the cats, his webcam is making a significant positive impact in the lives of many viewers around the world.
Readers who wish to help support such fostering activities can donate to Purrfect Pals, and also vote for them every day in the Shelter Challenge. Alternatively or additionally, support your local animal rescue organizations in whatever way you can. I would also encourage people looking for pets to adopt rescued animals, and to consider adopting an adult rather than insisting on a kitten/puppy.